Literature of Restoration Roundtable
March 31, 2023

Literature of Restoration, or LoR, was conceived by Deena Metzger.  A website,, was launched on Earth Day, April 22, 2023.  The website is the work of Deena, Cynthia Travis and Annie Licata.  Annie designed the site, which has over twenty stories, excerpts, essays, recordings and hundreds of photographs, the latter mostly by Cynthia Travis. As Annie says, “It wasn’t just about writers, but about the beings with whom the writers made alliances.” 

Deena: Literature of Restoration arose from a world in which there is a constant, I want to say even an ecstasy, of violence against people, against peoples, against women, against the earth.  That violence is embedded in our literature. My hope is that in our speaking with each other today, we will come to understand the need and the goal and the heart of a way of writing that is not violent, that is not by its nature conflicted, that is not commercial, not obsessed with material gain and power, that honors and respects earth and spirit and is embedded in the intelligence of earth and spirit and focuses on what is truly life-giving and what is committed first and last to a viable and beautiful future for all beings. 

This offering to a broken world is very closely connected to Dark Matter and we want to introduce it to the world also through Dark Matter since the journal has carried this consciousness since the beginning.

Cynthia: I’m on the Mendocino coast in Northern California. In talking about what this conversation might be, Deena and I realized that nested in the conversation about the possibilities of Literature of Restoration is another conversation about who we become as writers by writing from this perspective: the possibilities and challenges and transformations and joys.  We think of this as a mindwalk, a journey we’re taking together, a companionship of discovery. A place where the stories interact and synergize and so do we. 

Deena: We begin with the broken world. Climate destroyed. Desperation everywhere. And then there is writing. The possibility of words to both bear witness and perhaps to bring another understanding. To bring an earth-based, spirit-based consciousness. A literature engaged with the reality from which conventional culture has separated itself. When one enters that world, which is utterly profound and utterly beautiful and wise and based in the heart, one is altered by it and one becomes a different kind of person. So the reader and the writers are in a common conversation as a way of loving and rescuing the world. It’s not just in the content, it’s in the language, in the rhythms, in the way sentences are constructed. It’s a way of being with. And what I have felt with those who are writing in this way is that there’s a deep companionship among us. We are in something together—and also, we’re sustained by it, despite everything that’s around us. The connection that can only happen in the heart makes an enormous difference. That’s why I call it a consciousness.

My hope is that somehow and over time, LoR will become a way for people to write that will call them out of the limitations of conventional literature.  When I was in writing classes as a young person every single teacher asked me, “What is the central conflict in your writing?”; the implication is that conflict is innate to every human activity. That is the kind of thinking that leads to the place where we are. So I’d like to say alliance and interdependence and interconnection are central. This is a resonant writing that brings things together, creates allies and possibilities. And it’s a writing that has deep respect for the reader. 

Sharon: I’m in rural Nova Scotia. When I was first working on Night in the World  I really had no community other than Patricia. Before Patricia I had nobody and the loneliness was just dreadful. And the self-doubt. This work for me has been a journey of trying to find a way to write in which the natural world—which is usually the background to human drama, subservient to the narrative about people—would come forward, not only as a character, but as the center of the book somehow, in all its grandeur and potency. So how do you have a story about people but the people aren’t at the center? This is what concerned me when I was starting to write this novel. The challenge was and is in that de-centering of the human—without diminishing it.  My novel takes place in a city and this was important for me. I wanted to give the reader this experience of a familiar urban place, and then the wild places, the elementals becoming more and more potent.   

Patricia: Well that’s an eloquent description of my journey, too. I live in Winnipeg, which is kind of the navel of North America. It was traditionally the central meeting-place of the two great rivers here, where people came to trade and feast and intermarry, and sometimes when I’m most alert as a settler here, I’m aware of those energies living here. 

I’ve just completed a novel, How to Talk to a Glacier.  It’s set in a post-collapse future, involves a tribe of young people and children living in the northern wilderness (a term that doesn’t occur in indigenous languages).  They’re all coming to terms with living in the natural world and they’re surviving. These kids have adapted and are doing fine in terms of living off the land and learning from it. But they have yet to develop a full relationship with the natural world and they are led and guided in that by a seven-year-old seer who came to me and essentially told me what the book was about. I felt very much with that novel that something was being transmitted, something I was honored to be channeling. It’s a work that tried very hard to decenter the human without dismissing the human. At the center of it is the character of this sentient glacier who is dying, who is telling stories to this child before she dies. The child comes to understand her role is to hold these stories for the glacier until such time as glaciers return.

Working on that novel has changed me quite profoundly. I really felt I was entering new territory that I didn’t quite understand and just hoped I could be as faithful to as possible. Paul Kingsnorth says: “But what about the mind of the world itself? If awareness, consciousness, feelings—life—all extend far beyond the human domain, why do novels continue to behave as if humans were the only actors? … What would a novel look like if it were written by someone who sang to the forest, and believed it sang back?”

Sue: (sound of birds chirping very loudly). They’re singing to us for sure. The cardinals are with us right now. I try and do all my writing outside.  

I’m in Tallahassee, Florida and Indian Pass, Florida. I love what you said, Patricia, about being alert as a settler. It sums up LoR and Dark Matter ,too. I try to be alert to what the beings might be saying to me.

I want to tell a small story. During a recent  council- with Deena, I was at the coast and a strange gale came blowing up from the South, from the Caribbean. Unusual creatures I didn’t know the names of were washing up on shore. At first my trained biologist mind wanted to identify and describe these beings. The Gulf itself said: enough of that. Can’t you see what they’re feeling? A wave knocked me back against the beach, drenching both my clothes and my journal. When I opened the book I saw that it wasn’t just wet with sea water, it was filled with curlicues of sand and coquina shells. This was moist wisdom I would never be able to come up with myself.  I heard them saying it in their own way:  “Allow us to teach you in the ways we can but not in your language.” Then I was able to see what these animals were feeling, which is only the first step in knowing how to be of service.  And what they were feeling,  these gooseneck barnacles, their little bodies were  waving,  every one of them was reaching to be reunited with the sea and the saltwater column.   The long blue tentacles of the Portuguese men of war were also reaching to the water.  Everything was just wanting to get back into their medium.  I could feel in my wet state not just their longing but their suffering. How they had been brought here by a combination of the agricultural runoff from the Amazon and the Caribbean, the warming of the ocean, and the gale that was not normal. The only good thing about it was that I could witness, learn and tell others about what that suffering felt like to them.  And maybe some day, come to hear something like Patricia’s child. 

Nan: Sue, thank you for that beautiful detail of relational intimacy. I’m here in the prehistoric lake bed adjacent to the existing Great Salt Lake which is the largest saline lake in the Northern hemisphere and an essential ecosystem, especially in terms of birds; ten million birds depend on Great Salt Lake at some point in their migrations. In the stories of the Shoshone people the lake where the world began. 

The Literature of Restoration in my life prepared me to be able to listen to the lake when she had something to say to me. Without it, I don’t think I would have had the channels open. It was just under two years ago that I took in the information that the lake was in peril even though I had spent lots of time there looking at birds. Like a lot of people who live here, I thought that the lake was in a natural cycle of ebbing and flowing. I wasn’t aware of the crisis caused primarily by human diversion and extracting but also exacerbated by the aridification of the West, also caused by human activity.  The whole Anthropocene is working against the lake on many levels, but I hadn’t taken it in.  But more importantly, when I became aware I knew to pick up my pen. Those became my primary activities; writing and listening to the lake. Then I started dreaming with the lake. I knew to attend to the dreams because I had studied with Deena many years. Then I was invited by the lake to keep vigil.  The language she offered was “from wolf moon to snow moon.” I had to get up and google this. When I looked for those dates on the calendar, I noticed they corresponded to the Utah State legislative session which began on the day of wolf moon.  So I knew to take the invitation seriously. 

We kept a 47-day-and-night vigil on Antelope Island in a camper on the receding shore. I did a lot of things I hadn’t done previously. The lake beckoned us and we came.  I got to be a listener who could respond.  The vigils brought more people who came to write, to walk to the shore, and to witness. This year we did more singing. The first year we didn’t really sing. I got good at listening to the lake and she had a lot of things to say to me. The one thing she kept asking me to do was sing. Not just to sing, but to invite others to sing. So I learned how to do it. I started singing simple songs and teaching other people and singing along rivers and singing in places where the lake asked. During the vigil there were three distinct times and ways the lake sang back.  I’ll describe one of them.  We were singing to the sunset on the lake and this sunset suspended in time as it changed color— colors I’ve never imagined and cannot name, one tapestry after another— she just gave back and sang back as we were singing. One of the most beautiful occurrences of my life. We all understood it as the lake singing back. It really is the consciousness of LoR that called me into these experiences, into this deep relationship which is at times painful, full of grief. But also full of beauty and joy. 

Cynthia: Listening to you, Nan, in particular, what was running through my head was a realization that came early on in my own transformation as a writer—that the writing like the singing is the offering. Of course we would love for people to read it, but even if nobody reads it the act of the writing and what it takes internally to be the person who can listen deeply enough to enter into a relationship that is reciprocal and mutual, then the writing becomes part of that relationship and conversation and that in itself has texture and heft and importance and possibility embedded in it separate from or in addition to what people experience when they read it. Also the beings who come find us and engage with us have agency and intelligence and wisdom that they’re willing to share and that to me is a miracle every single day. They become part of us. We’re being remade and corrected as we come into these deeper relationships.  LoR is who we’re becoming, it’s part of our identity.  And the accompaniment that occurs, the companionship, the being with all those beings and each other and our stories that also become a collective being and interact with each other make me feel I’m being taught,  we’re being schooled. That companionship makes it possible to bear witness and withstand the heartbreak and to feel tethered to possibility rather than doom. 

Deena: You know I had a moment today listening. It took me to a place that I’ve never gone to before. It was when you were speaking, Patricia. You spoke about the glaciers disappearing. It’s broken me to hear that. And as I listen to each one of you and as I read you, it feels like there is Incredible philosophic understanding of the nature of the presence of the natural world. I’m so taken by these presences that create a vital literary entity.. 

Cynthia: Sometimes I think they sit around saying to themselves, “Who can we get to sing to Great Salt Lake? Let’s see. How about that woman Nan?”  “Where can the migrating birds land that someone will notice and learn? What about Sue Cerulean?” I feel like we’re being gathered and remade by beings other than ourselves.

Nan: Yes, we are being gathered. I also want to offer a slightly different perspective… When I received the call to keep vigil I felt called personally.  But when I got out there in the camper—the  war in Ukraine had just started—the lake gave me an image of someone behind enemy lines calling for help. And then I understood that the call wasn’t specifically for me.  The lake was calling  anyone who could hear her– anyone who would answer.  And since then I’ve seen hundreds of people have come to the shore in response to the same channel of listening that LoR opened for me. 

During a recent meditation, the lake shared something else that now  seems obvious to me. We’re in this record snow year here in Utah.  It is a reprieve for Great Salt Lake. It’s not a long-term solution, but we were looking at a five-year complete collapse and now we have longer. Why is this miraculous snow happening? Well, the lake called in her friends, the weather-makers of the earth. This record-breaking snow is an astonishing swell of support from her familiars. They’re really showing up for her. 

Susan: (birds singing) There are so many ways that we can receive information from the Earth and one of them is through plant medicines.  The only mushroom journey I have ever taken allowed me to witness the most marvelous conversation  between a river joining the Gulf of Mexico and the land. It didn’t have anything to do with me. I just happened to be tuned into that channel. The elementals were discussing how the water was going to move and how the land was going to have to give way because of climate change and sea-level rise.  They’re doing that, they’re talking amongst themselves, and we are sometimes able to hear..  What a privilege, right? We’re just so small and the Earth is so big…

Patricia: I want to share part of an essay by Jeanette Armstrong who’s a member of the Okanagan nation in B.C. on the relationship between land and indigenous people: “The way we talk about ourselves as Okanagan people is difficult to replicate in English. When we say the Okanagan word for ourselves we are actually saying ‘the ones who are dream and land together.’ That is our original identity… But our word doesn’t precisely mean dream.  It actually means ‘the unseen part of our existence as human beings.’ It may be the mind or the spirit or the intellect.  We are mind as well as matter. We are dream, memory and imagination.“ This captures so much that we’ve been talking about. 

Deena: We are. That is so incredible. I was thinking about what Nan said about the lake calling out in need. That’s what happened with the elephants. It happened that I heard a call. I never thought they called to me. I happened to be willing or able to hear it and to meet it. Cynthia and I have gone many times to a single place under a particular tree at a particular time and the elephants recognize that we hear them and they come.  The earth and the spirits need all of us to hear them and to understand who they are and if we do then things will shift on the planet. I think that’s a given. But not without that listening. Not without that recognition and connection and knowing. And great love.  Kristin, can we hear your voice?

Kristin: I’m listening primarily as a reader.  I suppose it goes without saying but I want to say it—LoR can also remake the reader.  It can grant permission. It can unlock those places in ourselves that we shut away. To hear Nan talk about the Great Salt Lake…it’s a relationship that’s so intimate and profound, and to hear her tell it (how she responded) sounds like the most natural response in the world to someone we love. And there’s the scene with the moths in Night in the World; it’s about relationship and listening and letting in another perspective that can move us out of our complacency and paralysis.

Cynthia: That was important for me to hear. That our writing might be able to school the reader gently in listening in connecting. 

Kristin: Also it’s embodied writing, which really matters in a world in which we’re inundated by stories about the growing ubiquity of artificial intelligence. LoR is bringing us back to embodied ways of knowing. When I read your work my body is reacting to those words, to those images, to the environment that’s created in a way that’s different from say listening to the evening news. It’s like changing your diet. I feel better when I provide myself with real nourishment. 

Annie: Our species doesn’t understand why parts when they’re put together create something else. To me LoR is like a brain that’s been put together and it’s created this consciousness, this thing that is magic and cannot be understood or described. Real magic and real energy that counteract the very powerful seductive energies that are not aligned with the life force and the natural world.

Nan: Another image that came up for me was being in a school. Like a flock of birds or even better, a murmuration.  Many lives moving in a nonlinear way. It’s exciting to think of the website as a living location where we can meet.  

Patricia: Another image that came to me as Annie was speaking: being exposed to the LoR website will be like a dose of homeopathic medicine. You won’t need much of it, but it will begin to alter you bodily.

Deena: We hope also that it won’t be exclusive, that it will be interactive and developing. That others will participate in imagining what this could be. 

Susan: I was thinking about what Patricia just said about homeopathy. Even if you don’t know exactly what the cardinal is saying, the songs of the birds are raining down on you. We’re in that line of transmission.  Just knowing that we’re there is astounding. 

Sharon: I wanted to echo what Kristin was saying about how this literature and what Dark Matter has published gives permission to others. All the stuff I knew as a child deep down. I think there’s tremendous hunger for this because it’s embodied and ensouled. I’m very much still on this journey of uncovering the obstructions that are there to listening—and the deep amnesia. 

Sue: (Birds singing loudly) I think what this conversation gives us permission to do is to go further and take more risks and listen harder and with more humility. 

Nan: I love that so much: go further take more risks. I wanted to respond Sharon to saying what you knew as a child. I’m remembering into what I was sure about at ten years old. I didn’t have any doubts about animals and rocks and their spirits and their lives and agency. Now it feels like peeling off the layers of amnesia, coming out of the fog.  

Annie: I just want to say thank you to the beings who have called out to us. Their courage in calling out to us and the writers’ courage to answer. As a young writer I feel that permission very strongly.  It’s given me a path I didn’t know was there before. There’s no requirement, no course you have to take. As Nan said, it’s already in us. Everybody can come in.   

Cynthia: This feels to me like a re-centering in possibility and community. We don’t have to have the answers. We just have to be better and better listeners and more and more in our hearts and bodies with the earth and the beings who are coming through.  And that we can do. 

Deena: I learned something two days ago about artificial intelligence that’s as devastating as anything I’ve ever heard in my life. And it was truly listening to you and to the words you chose about the world that’s real, that we’ve had the fortune to be able to access to recognize to see that it exists. Thank you everyone, thanks to the spirits and the earth beings for coming. Thank you beauty and possibility. 

About the Conversants:

Writer, naturalist and advocate Susan Cerulean has lived on and listened to the northern Gulf of Mexico and its wild birds and islands since 1981.  She has published three award-winning works of nonfiction with the University Press of Georgia: I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter’s Memoir (2019); Coming to Pass: Florida’s Coastal Islands in a Gulf of Change (2015), and Tracking Desire: A Journey after Swallow-tailed Kites. As an activist and a speaker, she has traveled from Standing Rock Reservation to Key West.  

Sharon English is the author of the newly released novel Night in the World, which interweaves personal with ecological crisis, as well as two short story collections, Uncomfortably Numb and Zero Gravity. Zero Gravity was longlisted for the Giller Prize and ReLit Award, included in the Globe & Mail‘s Top 100 titles for the year, and recently translated into Serbian. Sharon’s writing has appeared in previous issues of Dark Matter, as well as Best Canadian Stories, Canadian Notes & Queries, and Dark Mountain in Britain. Originally from London, ON, she lived in Toronto for over 25 years, where she still teaches creative writing at U of T. In 2021 she and her husband moved to an old farm in rural Nova Scotia.

Kristin Flyntz is assistant editor of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing. You can read more about her here.

Annie Licata is a multimedia editor and writer. She is assistant to writer, healer, and teacher Deena Metzger. Annie has spent the past ten years building a career writing about music and working in the industry as a producer-songwriter manager, publisher, and live concert producer. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her Great Dane, Louis.

Born in the UK and raised in northern British Columbia, Patricia Robertson has lived in Spain, London, Yukon, and elsewhere. Her third fiction collection, Hour of the Crab, was named co-winner of the 2022 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction. She now lives and works in Winnipeg, Manitoba, located on Treaty 1 territory—the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation—where she writes stories with one foot firmly in this world and the other somewhere else.

Nan Seymour served as the poet-in-residence on Antelope Island, leading day-and-night vigils on behalf of the imperiled Great Salt Lake throughout the 2022 and 2023 Utah State legislative sessions. During her weeks on the receding lakeshore, she assembled the praise poem, irreplaceable, a collective love letter to the lake containing over 400 individual voices from citizens of the bioregion. Nan’s story lake woman leaving, a modern myth, was awarded the 2022 Alfred Lambourne prize by Friends of Great Salt Lake. Nan writes and advocates for Rights of Nature, legally defensible personal rights for ecosystems. Her poetry gives voice to their inherent right to live, flourish, and evolve in a natural way.

Cynthia Travis is a writer, photographer and Earth lover. She is passionate about wildlife, the ocean, peacebuilding, food, soil health, and gut health. She is currently completing a family memoir that de-centers humans by exploring the natural history of empire as the context for human events. Her blog, Earth Altar, ( is a meditation on our relationship with the Natural World, with new moon and full moon posts. In a former life she was a teacher and mediation trainer in California and New Mexico. She lives on the Mendocino Coast in Northern California.

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